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Sarah Sanders defends Attorney General Barr's investigation into origins of Russia probe

For Trump to instruct Barr "to do that, it looks like he's using the attorney general to be his personal lawyer," Rep. Eric Swalwell said Sunday.
Image: President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr arrive for the presentation of the Public Safety Officer Medals of Valor in the East Room of the White House on May 22, 2019.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr's investigation into the origins of the years-long probe into whether President Donald Trump's campaign conspired with Russia in 2016 took center stage Sunday as White House press secretary Sarah Sanders seemed to suggest there was only one possible outcome from it — the one the president seeks.

Speaking with NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," Sanders was pressed on whether Trump would accept the results of the investigation if Barr were to exonerate many of the F.B.I. and intelligence officials that have come under Trump's wrath for their role in the Russia probe.

“We already know that there was an outrageous amount of corruption that took place at the F.B.I. They leaked information. They lied. They were specifically working trying to take down the president, trying to hurt the president," Sanders said. "We'll leave the final call up to the attorney general and he'll get to the bottom of it. But we think Americans deserve the truth. The president's asked for that. And we should expect nothing less."

Todd noted that Sanders' answer "sounds like the president has already determined the outcome," adding that it did not sound like the White House wants Barr "to do his job."

“Chuck, that's the reason that he's granted the attorney general the authority to declassify that information, to look at all the documents necessary, is so that we can get to the very bottom of what happened," Sanders responded. "Once again, we already know about some wrongdoing. The president's not wrong in that. But he wants to know everything that happened and how far and how wide it went.”

Asked if Trump expects former F.B.I. Director James Comey to be arrested, as the president has accused Comey of treason, Sanders said: "The people that were responsible and that were part of this unprecedented obstruction and corruption at the F.B.I., those people should certainly be held responsible" and Trump "expects that to take place."

Late last week, Trump ordered the U.S. intelligence community to "quickly and fully" cooperate with the Justice Department's investigation — his highest profile call to investigate those who were involved with the early stages of the Russia probe. The president also gave Barr the authority to unilaterally declassify information related to the investigation.

Last month, Barr said he would probe the “genesis and conduct” of the Russia investigation, weeks later appointing U.S. Attorney John Durham to examine just that.

The move comes weeks after special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his 400-plus page report to Barr. Though Mueller did not file criminal charges against the president or any associates for conspiring with Russians, his report detailed extensive contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians — including a willingness by some to accept their help — and detailed Russia's efforts at interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

A number of top Trump campaign aides and longtime Trump associates were charged, convicted, or pleaded guilty as a result of Mueller's investigation. Among those were former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

As part of the Justice Department's investigation, Barr has the "full and complete authority" to declassify documents relating to the Russia probe, as Sanders detailed in a statement last week.

Trump and his allies have repeatedly claimed they were spied on during the 2016 campaign. Intelligence officials have pushed back on that allegation, saying they acted lawfully.

“We’re not compromising national security here," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told "Fox News Sunday." "We’re trying to create a system to make sure this never happens again."

Also on "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said that although the numerous contacts between Trump officials and Russians "may not have amounted to conspiracy," he doesn't believe "anyone can look at those 200 pages of contacts between the Trump team had with the Russians and say, 'Oh we want this to happen again in 2020.'"

Swalwell, a Democratic presidential candidate who sits on the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, called Trump's order to the intelligence community was "an abuse," noting that the Justice Department's inspector general was already probing the issue.

"For the president of the United States to instruct his attorney general to do that, it looks like he's using the attorney general to be his personal lawyer rather than having the attorney general look at whether there are still ongoing threats to our country," he said.

On CNN's "State of the Union," Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said "the American people have to find out what went on" regarding the launch of the Russia investigation.

"But, at some point," she continued, "we need to move on from this issue."